An Intimate Story About Waiting for Security and Respect

24 04 2023

"The Melancholy of the Tourist". Photo: Oligor y Microscopía

Author: Maja Dobrojević

Despite its romanticized title, the play “The Melancholy of the Tourist”, performed at the Festival LUTKE 2022, is an intimate story about waiting for something that each of us wants, but rarely gets – that is, existential security, credibility and respect for our life and work.

A group of a dozen people was waiting for the door leading to the old tunnel within the Puppet Theatre Ljubljana to open. I was anxiously reading a pamphlet in Slovenian containing information about the play. I was able to discern some terms and make connections: tourists-Cuba-Havana-woman with a cigar... After the door opened, and before we entered the tunnel, everyone grabbed a blanket as the temperature in the tunnel is always around 9 degrees Celsius.

The authors used the found objects, i.e., postcards, photographs, newspapers, projectors, etc., to complete two testimonies that would otherwise be less authentic and emotionally charged, and, with the help of their classical signature, merged the object theatre with a documentary. This is what our visit to the theatre looked like:  

We were welcomed by the melancholic author duo Oligor y Microscopía, that is, a Spanish author Jumi Oligor and a Mexican author Shaday Larios, who then ushered us into a small auditorium. In a calm and informal tone, Oligor explained to us the circumstances preceding the performance. The play was postponed on two occasions due to the loss of luggage during transportation. They had most things with them, but they lost a unique surface – a table with mechanisms. Despite their disappointment and sadness, they managed to construct a similar table in a short time. We could, however, feel their regret for the lost original surface. In silence, Oligor stood on the left side of the table, and Larios on the right, and then the stage went dark.

Oligor lit a candle and placed a miniature camera with a winding crank on the table, and Larios placed a silver figurine of a man. The only sound we could hear was the sound of winding, and when the crank reached the center, there was an explosion representing the click of the camera. After a moment of shock and silence, the lights came back and Oligor began to tell a story of a woman from Havana, Cuba.

Meanwhile, a photo projection on the screen showed a woman in a traditional guayabera dress sitting on a chair in a tourist district smoking a cigar. We learned from the story that she would roll cigars in front of passers-by and smoke them, which was an unusual sight that drew tourists to take photos of her. At first, they would pay her, but over time they found ways to take photos of her without paying, and some of them sold the photos and posters online. They got their nice memories and money, while she was left with financial and health problems. 

Oligor continues to tell a new story about a man from Acapulco, a coastal town in Mexico, whom we meet through photographs. The young man is paid to jump from the rocks 30-40 meters high into a small bay. He does it a few times a day, every day of the year, risking his life. Although the pay is small, jumping brings home some money, and it can be done constantly. By means of a story and photographs taken on their own journey, the duo tries to convince us that they met the aforementioned jumper, who was at that time already old and out of shape. He welcomed them and told them his story. He also allowed them to copy the photos to tell a credible story to the audience, that is, to all of us.

As we listened to the stories, the photos were accompanied by miniature sets created by the performers before our very eyes. One such set depicted the beach, represented by yellow light, sounds of seagulls, sea and tourist babble, while the collage made out of retro postcards represented the background. The authors placed paper figurines on a small turntable and after a few seconds moved or replaced them, and with this simple and effective solution, gave a commentary on the large size and rapid migration of the tourist population. The second set shows the shop/bar. This time the light comes from decorative lights placed on small cables. The shop is set on a turntable, has a straw roof, is full of details and unmistakably looks like a tropical beach dwelling.

The gap between text and scenery is not filled with classical acting, characters and dialog, but with numerous mechanisms aiming to have a short-term effect. One such mechanism consists of children's projection lamps in which the authors place photos, casting scenes on the walls of the tunnel. In addition to the projection lamps, they had an old projector that they upgraded themselves: by adding two more projectors to the existing projector. Although we could not see it during the performance, we could see its magic on a white screen serving as a partition between the audience and the space for animators. Another mechanism consisted of two cables placed above our heads. The performers attached the photos to the cables using a magnet and let them pass from the table to our backs. The unique and numerous mechanisms have shattered an almost guaranteed monotony that could have been a result of a constant monologue.

The play ends with the rewinding of the camera and taking a photo of the figurine. However, this time around, the camera does not in fact take a photo of the figurine, but of the audience. This part fascinated me. I felt small and a little abused because a part of my soul was taken away from me without my consent. But I’m sure that was the point. I like the courage and determination of the performing team to go all the way and ask, within the safe confines of the theatre, the question, “I got you, so what are you going to do now?”, while also giving us time to think. In real life, we do not get the time and opportunity to think about many things, especially not about how comfortable we are to have someone exploit our existence. In real life, we only get a few seconds to react, if we get them at all.

A conversation with the audience was conducted using silence, storytelling, mechanisms, scenery, as well as the theme itself, while the drama stems from the documentary representation of the unpleasant life situations of the Woman with a Cigar and the Jumper. Despite its romanticized title, this is an intimate story about waiting for something that each of us wants, but rarely gets – that is, existential security, credibility and respect for our life and work. Without dwelling too much on the problem, we should focus on the solution, which could indeed be found in the conscious and humane behavior of every one of us. 

This publication is written in the context of the project "European Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform"